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Antigua not set on Immigration Policy Amidst Haiti Crisis

Antigua and Barbuda has not recorded an increase in the number of Haitian migrants coming to its shores even as civil unrest in Haiti continues. 

According to Minister for Immigration and Attorney General Sir Steadroy Benjamin, although there has not been an influx of incoming Haitian refugees in recent months,  “secret requests have been made…farmers, fishermen..”  for family and friends to come to Antigua.  So far, the government has made no policy as to the welcome or otherwise that Haitians immigrants might receive.

While like Anitgua and Barbuda, Haiti is a full CARICOM member, given the instability in Haiti, it does not participate in freedom of movement of its people. 

As the Haitian diaspora grows, so do the challenges faced by host nations. Antigua is no exception.  The island has an open attitude to immigration, but the island’s resources are finite. Schools, hospitals, and housing are already stretched thin. An influx of migrants places additional strain on these vital services, weakening the system for all.

Currently, Haitian do not need a visa to visit Antigua, but as was seen in 2022 when Five Haitians disappeared from Immigration at Camp Blizzard, many see Antigua as a stepping stone to other countries, often not intending to take a legal route.  This incident  highlights vulnerabilities in the security of the immigration system. And so in making its decision, the government here would have to consider whether the country is equipped to handle potential security threats posed by undocumented arrivals.

The Haitians’ plight is a human tragedy, with no end in sight, but just how far can CARICOM and Antigua go? 

Prime Minister Gaston Browne said he is in constant dialogue with other leaders, determined to support a solution to the crisis. At the United Nations General Assembly in September 2023, Antigua resolved to send Defence Force troops to Haiti.

Browne declared that “The immediate imperatives are clear: An urgent, comprehensive, coordinated intervention is required; that will concurrently restore governance, security, and the rule of law while resolving the humanitarian needs.” 

Heads pause for a photo during the Business Sessions of the 46th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of #CARICOM at the Guyana Marriott Hotel Georgetown

The CARICOM summit earlier in March culminated in an accord regarding Haiti’s transitional governance, marking a significant stride towards stability in the beleaguered nation.  Through a certain amount of compromise, the agreement delineates the establishment of a Transitional Presidential Council

While all this is in progress, in the heart of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, chaos still reigns supreme. Armed gangs, emboldened by political instability and fueled by desperation, have laid siege to the city. Prisons have been stormed, shops torched, and police stations overrun. The international airport, once a gateway to the world, now stands as a battleground.

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On Monday, gangs attacked two affluent communities and the bodies of at least 12 men were left laid in the streets. According to AP News, gunmen looted homes in the communities of Laboule and Thomassin before sunrise, forcing residents to flee as some called radio stations pleading for police.  The latest reports from Reuters on Thursday suggested that at least one gang leader and two gang members were set on fire and dragged through the streets with his hands cut off. 

Meanwhile, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a former special forces officer turned gang kingpin, is one of two main gangs who lead this insurrection.  His rallying cry echoes through the narrow alleys: “The people of Haiti must be free—and we will achieve that with our guns.” Chérizier’s mission? To overthrow Haiti’s unpopular prime minister, Ariel Henry, and liberate the nation’s 11.7 million citizens from what he deems an anti-democratic regime. 

The resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry has however made little difference to the violence and atrocities. He appealed for calm: “Haiti needs peace. Haiti needs stability. Haiti needs sustainable development. Haiti needs to rebuild democratic institutions.”  

Despite his calls for renewed democracy,  Chérizier has dismissed attempts by CARICOM to force an election;  “We’re not going to recognise the decisions that CARICOM takes.”  Rights groups have accused his gang alliance of committing atrocities, including killings and rape. 

Haiti’s crisis has deep roots. Eight years have passed since the last election, nearly three since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. The earthquake of 2010 left scars that still bleed—an economic catastrophe compounded by decades of political turmoil. The Duvalier dynasties, “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc,” ruled with an iron fist, and even the spectre of reparations paid to France after Haiti’s hard-fought independence in 1804 haunts the nation.

Daniel Foote, the former US special envoy to Haiti, minces no words: “The consistent meddling of the international community over the past 220 years has made Haiti a failed state. The people have no say in their lives; they have no say in their future. The internationals have made it a puppet state.”

As Haiti’s plight worsens, its citizens seek refuge beyond their borders. Thousands have fled Port-au-Prince, desperate for safety.

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